The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for going to your first live football match in years. Ticket? Check. Prawn sandwiches? Check. Great writing about videogames from across the week? Check.

Has 2017 seen the second death of the immersive sim? Poor sales of Prey, Dishonored 2, Deus Ex Mankind Divided and Hitman suggest so, and Robert Yang writes about it very well while positing some ideas for third-wave immersive sims. (I also think all of the above games had real marketing problems and failed to effectively communicate what fantasy they were selling.)

However, I still can’t shake the feeling that these games (as well-crafted as they are) all basically seem like the same kinds of games that I’ve been playing forever, and they never really manage to profoundly surprise me or make an impact on me. Today, I believe the immersive sim genre’s problem is not a level design problem or content problem — it is a game design problem about how it conceptualizes its game systems.

The past week has all been about loot boxes, thanks to their appearance in Shadow of War, Battlefront 2 and others. Are loot boxes gambling? Well, yes – but the answer is more complicated when you’re looking at the law and regulation. Vic Hood spoke to psychologists and the Gambling Commission in search of a more detailed answer.

Currently, the Gambling Commission does not class loot boxes as gambling because, in its view, the items obtained from them cannot be exchanged for real-life money. This is an odd position, considering the vast number of third-party sites that let you trade in-game items or currency for real-money. Paragraph 3.17 of the position paper states: “Where there are readily accessible opportunities to cash in or exchange those awarded in-game items for money or money’s worth those elements of the game are likely to be considered licensable gambling activities.”

Meanwhile Kat Bailey at US Gamer points out that no matter the backlash, people enjoy opening loot boxes too much for the industry to stop the practice now.

Having seen the rise of this subculture up close over the past few years in the Madden and FIFA communities, I’m left with the lingering feeling that there’s no going back now. Loot boxes, CCG packs, and general randomized gacha mechanics are going to continue to proliferate as big-budget developers chase the almighty dollar. And for as much as we complain, we’re still going to see video after video of people opening boxes with exclamations of “sick pull, bro!”

Plunkbat is a tight multiplayer game with no explicit narrative, but that hasn’t stopped people roleplaying within it. Merrit K at Waypoint spoke to people about who they imagine their character to be when they play. Alice linked this earlier in the week, but in case you missed it:

Another player, FJ, also sees his character as a prisoner—albeit a political one imprisoned for anti-governmental action—forced to fight for his freedom. Like Yenien, his character developed out of his nonconfrontational behavior in the game. As FJ prefers to play cautiously and avoid unnecessary interactions, his unnamed prisoner character prefers not to kill. “If non-lethal options were available,” FJ says, “he would use them and in team matches he’s left people bleeding out instead of finishing them off, sensing that they, too, would rather be anywhere else.”

The Orange Box – Portal, Team Fortress 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode 2 – turned ten years old this past week. Why not reminisce by revisiting the complete Go Team! in which Kieron, Jim, Alec and John wrote articles about each of TF2’s nine classes. Any time people complain when a new game comes out and we’re all excitedly writing about it, I think of Go Team. What’s the point of RPS if not to write passionately and indulgently about the games we truly love?

I am Heavy Weapons Guy. And I’m in a bit of a bind. You see, there’s already no way I’m ever going to want to play as any other class. When I glance at the list of players on my side from now on, I worry I’m going to have the same sort of mentality I do if I pass a clipboard-wielding guy wearing a charity bib and a hopeful expression when I’m in a hurry. I have total sympathy, but I won’t break my stride because I’ve got other business. Same when I look at my team’s Class roster. Boy, these guys could really use a Medic. Someone should probably be Scout if we want to successfully grab the enemy briefcase.

I’m not going to be the Medic. I’m not going to be the Scout. I’m going to be Heavy Weapons Guy. I don’t have time to stop and help other people, because I’m in something of a hurry. A hurry to kill.

Joe Donnelly at PC Gamer spoke to Steve Gaynor about Tacoma’s critical and commercial reception and the “changing state of indie games”. I love listening to and reading Steve Gaynor talk. (Tacoma was also badly marketed.)

If you look at the total number of games released on Steam or whatever, it’s gone up an enormous amount but I think also the number of good games that you might actually want to play has gone up a lot as well! I think that “market saturation” is certainly a bit extreme, but I also feel like we are at that point where for any given person who’s paying very much attention, there’s too much to play, so how do you become one of the things that people actually might believe in and put their valuable time into? The equation is, I think, way different.

Wesley Yin-Poole at Eurogamer spoke to Jon Hare, creator of Sensible Soccer, about the development of his next football game Sociable Soccer. It failed its Kickstarted two years ago but Hare has self-funded it (more or less) and it enters early access next week.

Hare, who owns and runs Tower Studios (“essentially a small publishing, licensing and game design company”), is working with Finnish developer Combo Breaker on Sociable Soccer. It’s Tower Studios, though, that’s fronting up the cash. “I’ve always had this as my company to fall back on,” he says. Eight months ago Hare took a shareholding in Combo Breaker and became part of the company. Clearly, he sees potential in the “Sociable” brand, which he says could be applied to any sport.

Music this week is The Go! Team’s debut album, from which our old Team Fortress 2 character profiles drew their name. God, they still sound amazing. Bottle Rocket is still my favourite song from Thunder, Lightning, Strike, so start there. I saw them live two or three times and the sound system could never cope with the cacophony, but shouting “DO IT, DO IT, ALRIGHT” with a crowd of friends and strangers was worthwhile experience.

62 Comments

  1. LearningToSmile says:

    The whole “are lootboxes gambling” debacle just strikes me as extremely hypocritical for the most part.

    With few exceptions, the vast majority of people who now suddenly care about the issue don’t do it out of goodness of their hearts or concern for the emotionally vulnerable individuals that lootboxes are preying on – they do it because they’re upset the game publishers are now asking money for things that they’re used to getting for free. And that’s a perfectly fine thing to be upset about! But please, do not try to pretend you’re up in arms about the practice because it’s targeting vulnerable people or children.

    Unless you were already protesting MtG booster packs(which, by the way, are a WAY more direct example of gambling than any single-player game with lootboxes could possibly be), or Kinder Surprise toys, I’m going to have a hard time finding the outrage genuine.

    Not that having the discussion about lootboxes isn’t worth it, but still.

    And of course, there’s one thing that a lot of people leave out of the picture – if lootboxes get banned, it’s not like game publishers will suddenly stop trying to push unethical or annoying monetization schemes. Now that lootboxes in full priced, singleplayer titles are proven to be palatable to gamers, the logical next step is going to be paying for speeding up the grind/progression like a lot of mobile games do already. And you can’t fight that by pretending it’s gambling.

    • napoleonic says:

      Actually I have always criticised MtG booster packs, and refuse to play the game because of it. (Tip: Play Dominion instead.) And I don’t ever buy Kinder Surprise for kids.

      So I guess you will kindly permit me to be critical of multi-billion dollar transnational corporations getting children addicted to gambling? So generous of you.

      • malkav11 says:

        Yeah, Magic’s business model has always been disgusting and the second biggest reason I bailed on the game decades ago. (The first is I find the resource model to be broken to the point of ruining the game. But that’s not true of other CCGs and I’ve steered clear of them as well.)

    • PseudoKnight says:

      There’s a lot of reasons to dislike loot boxes. While it’s frustrating to see the weakest arguments brought up front and center sometimes, that doesn’t negate anything. I’ve been vocally against loot boxes before they were even called that. That’s in part because I’ve been against their predecessors and other similar designs. To name a few things that might resonate: artificial rewards, unnecessary progression systems, in-game stores, difficulty cliff, free-to-play (pay to finish), centralized servers, abandonware, procedural social engineering, reversed value perception (cheap game, expensive textures), games as services (businesses), “whales” (that 0.5% that are true “customers”), preying on the vulnerable (eg. gambling addiction, children naivete), pushing the line every year and normalizing it. Not all of those things are directly related to loot boxes, but are part of a larger trend that’s infecting more and more game genres. (even in old games that once existed as just games, rather than glorified store fronts) I just want creators to respect their players and respect their own work, but the only way for that to happen is for players and reviewers to more consistently say “this is too far”, “this is gross manipulation”, and “this makes the game worse”. There’s some amazing games out there that are irrevocably broken by these systems, but far too often people will excuse it because of the core game. This just allows more of this to spread and get worse. Loot boxes should absolutely affect game reviews because they absolutely change the game design, and almost entirely for the worst. You don’t need to buy to have fun? Your game is still affected.

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    • shocked says:

      But please, do not try to pretend you’re up in arms about the practice because it’s targeting vulnerable people or children.

      But why isn’t it “allowed” to be concerned about something for several reasons? I think the idea that loot boxes can be addictive to some people and especially minors is quite valid. Most modern societies recognize the same mechanism as gambling and usually we try to protect children from that. So why should people not be allowed to express their concerns about this in parallel to other problems that relate to loot boxes like “greedy publishers” or “artificial grindy gameplay”.

      Unless you were already protesting MtG booster packs[…] or Kinder Surprise toys, I’m going to have a hard time finding the outrage genuine.

      Whataboutism doesn’t change that the concerns people have are genuine. And even if they weren’t genuine (whatever that means), wouldn’t they still address a valid concern?

      if lootboxes get banned, it’s not like game publishers will suddenly stop trying to push unethical or annoying monetization schemes.

      Again, why not first deal with loot boxes and then look at what greedy ideas publishers come up with?

    • upupup says:

      This attitude that only the purest of pure have the right to be outraged is far more harmful than others doing the right thing for less than pure reasons, especially since your last paragraph shows that it leads to nothing but inaction and submission. I don’t care if people are only now getting involved in standing up to these practices because it affects a game that they care about, because no-one comes preprogrammed with all the knowledge on why something is bad and in need of being addressed. If change within the industry is to be achieved then as many people as possible need to speak out against this, not a few early adopters with all the best opinions.

      Because yes, this is gambling and that should not be glossed over or played down as a minor part of the game. Calling it this is no exaggeration and making it stick has consequences that are being pushed for. That this will not be easy and that companies will keep pushing for schemes like this isn’t being ignored, but utterly obvious and being taken into account from the start, except what is also known is that companies aren’t untouchable and that pushing back helps. Things can get better just as they can also get worse, but giving up is certain not to help at all.

    • Kollega says:

      I wonder what it says about me, then, that I never paid for any loot boxes or booster packs for any game, bought virtual currency exactly once (in a free-to-play game that I liked for its at-the-time fair mechanics, and where a gesture of “thanks, devs!” seemed appropriate at-the-time). Not to mention I was immediately offended by gamble-crates in Team Fortress 2 as soon as they appeared, since I immediately saw them as gambling preying on the people who gamble with real money for a cheap surge of positive emotions on hopefully getting something good – because their life is awful, or because they don’t know any better.

      Am I, of all people, allowed to complain? Because I complained even back when barely anyone else did.

    • BooleanBob says:

      In what universe is getting to be the smug arbiter of who holds the moral highground anywhere near as important as preventing these practices from ruining future games?

    • Menthalion says:

      Bit of a strawman argument that people just want free things, while people stated again and again they’d have no problems if they can buy specific items outright, even if it means higher prices.

    • Archonsod says:

      “if lootboxes get banned, it’s not like game publishers will suddenly stop trying to push unethical or annoying monetization schemes”

      Actually they probably would, at least until they felt the industry was no longer under government scrutiny.

  2. Wednesday says:

    I’m with Yang on this one.

    Dishonored 2 was beautiful, clever, marvellous, but mechanically far too similar to Dishonored 1, which itself was just a bit too close to Deus Ex. Far too long staring at loading screens, reloading, shattering my own immersion even though I really, really didn’t want to. MGS V had a much better, reactive approach, and Invisible Inc was much more forward looking, in terms of stealth, at least.

    These games need a serious rethink.

  3. Rao Dao Zao says:

    I’m not sure about the immersive sim chat. Maybe I’m an outlier, but I have explicitly not bought Prey, Mankind Divided or Dishonored 2 purely because of content — the lore and the settings just don’t entice me.

    Human Revolution was a good game but narratively extremely questionable so I’m not really fussed about a sequel even if it might be a better game. Dishonored 1 I enjoyed but again the plot didn’t do all that much for me. Prey… well, the monsters are black blobs (or at least that’s what marketing had me believe, they may well be much more interesting in situ). Should I have bought these games regardless because I want the gameplay style to thrive, even though the narratives don’t do it for me? Hrmmm.

    I have to admit that a lot of my love for the original Deus Ex is as much in the story as in the rest of it, so yeah, I probably am the crazy one.

    • Addie says:

      I did buy all three of them, because I love a ‘451’-style game – the lore and setting in all three cases was of no interest to me. They all suffer from being quite uninspired, but I’d heartily recommend Dishonored 2 on sale, Prey if it’s very on sale (quit when it starts to bore you), and giving DX:HR a wide berth.

      Spoliers ahead, I suppose.

      Prey is fantastic in its first third, still fairly solid for the second, and then absolutely terrible for its final third – the balance goes to hell, and rather than having new bits of the ship to explore, you just end up sprinting between objectives and ignoring the enemies, who can hardly hurt you any more. The aliens are black blobs throughout, and you’ll have seen most of the variation by halfway. Making a game which is a huge tribute to System Shock 2 need not copy having a dreadful ending too.

      I really enjoyed DX:HR and bought DX:MD on the strength of that. Which was a mistake; it has completely disappeared up its own arse. A bit like Fallout 4 has completely poisoned the well on that series too, any future sequels to this will have to get some absolutely phenomenal reviews to interest me at all, and even then, I’ll probably wait till they’re cheap.

      Dishonored 2, for me, is just as good as the original; looks better, but plays almost exactly the same, which if that’s what you want is fantastic. Consider it a mission-pack sequel.

    • Fnord73 says:

      I would posit that the problem with these games is a lack of fundamental narrative. Prey: “You are a spaceperson when things go wrong,and you need to get home” seems to be the narrative. In Deus Ex (wich I actually bought) : You are a cyborgperson in a worldofdastardly corporations and must do stuff. Dishonored 2:You are an assassin and must kills ome people because something.

      Contrast this with the writing of Witcher 3, wich has a narrative equal to a good book. I want to be Case from Neuromancer, dammit, not mr. Generic Cyberdude. I want to be the assasin that has a loveaffair with the dark godess, not just some puzzlesolver. The next generation of these games could really really benefit from hiring in some writers to make a overarching narrative in advance of production.

      • spacejunkk says:

        I would posit that you could at least play the games before shitting on them :(

        Prey’s story isn’t winning any awards, but it’s more sophisticated than you give it credit for. It has its twists and turns, and some well-drawn characters. I’d compare it favourably with Bioshock.

        It’s no Witcher 3 though as you say. It’s hard to build up those relationships and character arcs when you’re committed to letting the player kill anyone they meet I suppose.

        • Herring says:

          Divinity Original Sin 2 does well with this; most of the characters and arcs are at least interesting and you can _definitely_ kill everyone you meet (which Prey doesn’t quite give you the full freedom to do).

          That said, I loved Prey.

  4. Exclamation_at_One says:

    I’m still disappointed I was never able to play Dishonored 1 or 2. Certain first person games make me, physically, sick. Especially when they do not offer a way to adjust the POV angle. I’ve generally always preferred 3rd Person POV games anyways. Not only because they don’t make me ill but the content typically seems better. You can do more mechanically within a 3rd Person game. Even comparing games that are somewhat comparable – First Person Shooters – I’ve always felt the SOCOM and Battlefield titles were much better than COD.

    I never liked loot boxes. Not ones you paid for directly and not even ones you gained through skill – if they randomized items could you give you an edge in the game other players don’t have. If it’s just skins and other do dads that don’t effect the game, so be it. However, I will say that if you are getting the loot boxes through skill progression or in game currency then that is not gambling at all. Gambling is about luck. Sure you are getting lucky by getting a “sick pull, bro”, but if that loot box itself was gotten through skill (or any form of grinding) then it’s not gambling.

    • Premium User Badge

      Waltorious says:

      I thought Dishonored did allow adjustment to the POV. Although I recognize that even with that option it may still have made you sick.

  5. Ganvai says:

    I am really sad about the death of Deus Ex. I liked Human Revolution and I was stunned how good they transported the feel of Racism in Mankind Divided.

    Still, it’s true, the gameplay was very similar and especially Prey looked a lot like a DE:MD clone combined with some of the most boring monster designs ever. Dishonered was very different from the look and feel, but still the gameplay was very similar.

    Also, everyone seems to already have forgotten Thief 4 that was also very much the same (but with the most anoying loading times ever for to small level areas).

    It’s kinda impressive how Eidos Montreal and Bethesda managed to kill a genre by copying themselfs.

    Still, especially for DE:MD I think it is more about the awefull idea of including microtransactions, spending to much energy on a multiplayer no one ever wanted and the bad marketing in the first place.

    • Addie says:

      Heavens, had forgotten about that one. A classic series that I’d always adored, with a new installment which fouls up the mechanics, introduces a completely shallow darker-and-edgier theme which no-one asked for, has an entire cast of universally dislikeable characters, and whose writers thought that ‘plot’ was how you stumble from one head-banger to another. Difference being, the second Thief game is the best one, the second Deus Ex less so.

      • Ganvai says:

        Haha, man, that was the best synposis I have ever read about Thief.

        But, yeah you are right. While Thief developed, Deus Ex got downgraded a lot with the second part.

    • Caiman says:

      I’m playing Prey at the moment, and I’m extremely impressed by the creature design. They are genuinely challenging to face and, coupled with excellent sound design, quite intimidating. The morphing tech used by the engine is also pretty impressive. The reason I didn’t buy Prey at first is because the marketing implied that it was a straight single player FPS game. Many felt this was a kick in the face after Human Head’s promising version. But had they said “actually guys, Arcane have basically made System Shock 3” then I’d have bought it immediately.

  6. LTK says:

    Of course people like opening loot boxes when the developers are shamelessly exploiting reinforcement learning principles with them. ‘Skinner box gameplay’ is a term almost never used appropriately but that’s exactly what this is.

    There was another Sunday Papers article about loot boxes in Overwatch that had the developers going “so we have the items explode out of the box with different coloured trails to build suspense, and time the reveal just right for maximum excitement” and I’m like jesus christ, are you making a game or a slot machine?

    There’s nothing that makes me resent a game more than blatant attempts at evoking a dopaminergic response. It’s the cheapest trick in the book to get people invested in a game. I had hoped that the casino mentality of building addiction in your players to wring them for every penny had been confined to mobile free-to-play games but apparently the money is just too good to pass up.

    • upupup says:

      It’s repulsive. They’re taking their cues from slot and pachinko machines, which have refined these mechanics down to a science. There’s absolutely no way that they’re ignorant of what they’re doing.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      and I’m like jesus christ, are you making a game or a slot machine?

      That’s like half of all game dev conference talks too. The industry is depressing, and I have a ton of respect for anyone building stuff quietly on their own without all that bullshit (Stardew Valley, Banished, Night in the Woods, etc).

    • Rainshine says:

      Can we agree on definitions of what lootboxes are? Or is there a general problem with all of them?
      I ask, because I’ve only got experience with a couple games that had/have them. TF2 eventually got them, but I was never much into TF2, and back then I could buy any cosmetic interesting stuff I wanted — I believe you had to purchase a key with $ to open the box that dropped during the course of gameplay. Overwatch has them I think? I only tried that for a weekend. HotS has loot boxes, but you don’t need separate keys, you get them just for playing, and I think you can buy the stuff out of them for money too? Maybe? I’ve never actually bought anything in HotS for anything other than ingame currency. LoL has them, and have been messing around with how you get them, but right now, you get them from gameplay and you get the keys from gameplay. The stuff in the normal ones are the same as regular $ buys, although it’s pretty obvious by the flow of things they are trying to nudge you to drop money on them too. But the only one of those that seemed really offensive was the TF2 have to buy a key mechanic.

  7. onodera says:

    I kinda bounced off against almost every closed world immersive sim in the roster: Bioshocks and Dishonoreds I’ve tried but abandoned, Prey and Hitman just didn’t interest me enough. Only DX:HR and MD did I find playable, treating them mostly as stealth games. Dishonored 1 was kinda anti-stealth, giving you lots of toys but making most of them useless if you wanted to see the good ending.

    On the other hand, I finished both Bethesda’s Fallouts, Skyrim and Far Cries 3+, despite finding them not special at all. I think it’s the ability to faff around and complete the game in only a rough sequence of events that was important.

    • duns4t says:

      I think this is a crucial point. I still completed Dishonored 1 and 2, and loved them (but especially the first since it was more novel). But the rigid level structure takes away from the immersion, and creates an unpleasurable pressure to complete everything while that level is still active.

      Now that I’m imagining an open world Dishonored that’s what I want to play the most. The settings and movement are two of that series’ greatest assets and both would be improved dramatically if the experience was opened up.

  8. Laurentius says:

    So immersive sims as far as for me it boild down that games like Dishonored is ultimately about killing, even if you are stealthing it is because you don’t want to kill or be killed. For me it is a very draining experience. Give me playgrounds worlds like Dishonored or Prey but with Portal vibe, where I traverse space and beat obstacles in clever way with a lot of tools at my disposal but without shooting and knifing people and being knifed in return.

    • Premium User Badge

      MajorLag says:

      Something like Mirror’s Edge maybe, but with fewer fixed paths and more openness? I could get behind that. I think there’s a lot of unexplored possibility in pure movement-mechanic games, where you use a small set of verbs to navigate a space and it just feels good to move around the environment.

    • Kollega says:

      I legitimately wonder if it’s possible to make an immersive sim game… about absurd dystopian bureaucracy. Think something like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, or the Citizen Abel series (some Quake mods, then Gravity Bone, Thirty Flights of Loving, Quadrilateral Cowboy) that, it seems, was heavily inspired by its style. I’m not sure how it could be done, but it could be interesting if there was traversal and stealth, yet first-person shooter/brawler combat would be replaced by a puzzle system of some kind, revolving around the ridiculous repertoire of rules and regulations.

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      Ninja Dodo says:

      I love the immersive sim genre but I would kind of like to see some games with that design philosophy that are NOT about murdering everyone and stealing their stuff in a fantasy/insertpunk/space-station/lab with magical powers.

  9. goon buggy says:

    What did those first four games have in common. Denuvo in a single player game.
    Just feel like that should be mentioned. It turned me off 3 of them.

    I remember my 100 crate TF2 opening. Bupkis. A couple of strange rocket and gls. Was sick of dealing with people getting rid of the junk.
    But the 3 strange Kritz I upboxed kinda made up for it.

  10. Preciousgollum says:

    People are beginning to condition themselves as apologists for this new business model of in-game monetisation (or ‘loot boxes’), because it is the path of least resistance to living under corporate culture.

    Unfortunately, what happens is that people start attacking the past, or claim that if another business model exists then everyone has the imperitive to pursue like-minded or even expanded business practices, in order to make excuses for things that they don’t actually want, which is like the plot of 1984.

    Games can have debug modes and cheat codes, but they won’t now, if people become conditioned to drop ‘premium currency’ as result of an always connected infrastructure.

    Advertising is very powerful. The game becomes less about the desires of the consumer, and more about wallet flirtation with and/or appeal to the publisher. Ain’t I a tease?

    • pepperfez says:

      The anti-consumer bent of so many video game…consumers has always frustrated me.

      • batraz says:

        You have a point. The art of marketing can, among many wonders, make consumers feel like they’re rebels, and we may end up believing we are. I had recently fantasies about a progressist immersive sim : you would have to fight procedurally generated oppressions through looting and murdering. No pasaran !

  11. cpt_freakout says:

    One thing strikes me as crossing over from the Gaynor interview to the Yang post’s mention of sales: dozens of good games coming out close to one another. I’d love to play all the games I’d like to back to back, but the past few years have been chock-full of really good and really interesting games, more than a few of which are massive commitments. Sure, the marketing for immersive sims has been almost non-existent, and so they’ve depended on previous (fan) knowledge and mouth-to-mouth, but there’s also the fact that I (we) can only buy and play so many games.

    Thief is one of my favorite games in life, and I have incredibly fond memories of Deus Ex, but even disregarding that I was a kid with a ton of free time (not everyone was, after all), it was also a period when I could play one game per month and be more or less done with all the interesting games by the end of the year. Immersive sims require quite a high degree of commitment on the players’ part, at least as much as any RPG (and in some senses, like spatial awareness, even more), which means investing quite a lot of time on one game. On this, I tend to agree more with Raynor than Yang: things like immersive sims, just like RPGs (how many people aren’t catching up with Witcher 3 in late 2017?), should be seen as operating in a different economic timeframe than your regular PUBGs or Overwatches. Just like the games themselves, they’re not explosive ventures – they’re slow and demanding of more than your mechanical skill. I’m now catching up with Dishonored 2, but I don’t expect to jump right into Death of the Outsider; I’ll probably get to it next year, when I also plan to play Mankind Divided. After Dishonored 2, I want to play Total Warhammer, get around to The Witness and Firewatch, maybe even finally playing DOOM, but then the new Wolfenstein is coming, Vampyr, and I also want to play Cuphead and Hellblade and Shadow of War and… you see?

  12. Mo says:

    Graham, not sure if you’re aware or it was just pure coincidence, but The Go! Team just announced a new album + debuted a single. It’s as brilliant as you’d expect: link to pitchfork.com

    Enjoy! :D

  13. SuperTim says:

    Arguing that Loot Boxes are Gambling seems like a strawman. It would help no one.

    Loot Boxes is worse than Gambling. You basically spend money to randomly get in-game items you can’t sell.

    I play some P2W games. I don’t spend money on them but I have seen people spending a lot for some virtual ranking. Classifying them as gambling is just unfair.

    Perhaps it’s better to classify these games as “60 GBP/USD/EUR for Base Set only” and “Costs of completing the game may exceed $£€ 10000”. Much clearer than “Gambling”, anyway.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      The point with the gambling argument is that if loot boxes get classified as gambling from a legal sense publishers will have to comply with extensive regulations across numerous jurisdictions which may well make it too much trouble to bother with.

  14. woodsey says:

    I feel like it’s a little early to call time on the Immersive Sim (again).

    Dishonored 2 sold worse than Dishonored, but (as I recall) so did every single major sequel in the latter half of 2016. (It also had major launch issues on PC.)

    Same applies to Mankind Divided, which has the compounding issue of being owned by Square Enix, they of “Tomb Raider’s 3 million copies weren’t enough,” fame, who cut the game in half, added microtransactions, a money-grubbing arena combat thing, and didn’t really seem to market the game all that much.

    And yeah, Hitman was sold off… to the developer, IOI. All signs point to a second season, last I heard.

    Things are shaky, but I think that’s more a reflection of the AAA market as it stands right now than it is the genre in and of itself.

    I do agree with the assessment that the genre has backed itself (or has been backed, perhaps) into a position that sits awkwardly between the avant-garde and nostalgia. But perhaps that’s simply because it’s appearances are so few and far between.

    • Horg says:

      ”Same applies to Mankind Divided, which has the compounding issue of being owned by Square Enix, they of “Tomb Raider’s 3 million copies weren’t enough,” fame, who cut the game in half”

      I know that’s what put me off buying it. Every review I read said the game felt like it ended awkwardly on and obvious mid point intermission, all signs point to cut content being monetized as future DLC or a 3rd game. Then when MD, already light on ambition, doesn’t sell as well as they wanted, SE call time on the series as if to punish gamers who didn’t embrace their shameless cash grab. The big budget end of the games industry is looking more like hollywood every year, and I can’t remember the last time I went out to see a film. If this keeps up i’m going to need a new hobby.

      • woodsey says:

        I will say, not in defence of Square Enix but of the game itself, that it is a fine game right up until the very last second, and that in the history of god-awful videogame endings it probably wouldn’t rank among the top 50 (partly, perhaps, because it doesn’t end so much as just stop existing…).

        The level design is consistently great and Prague is one of the finest hubs in all of videogame hubdom.

      • Premium User Badge

        Ninja Dodo says:

        The whole DX Mankind Divided ending being too sudden or it being “half a game” thing is so completely overblown. The ending is fine. It resolves the main threads of that game while setting up a sequel just like ANY other middle part that came before it. The only problem is Square apparently shelving the finale based on the response.

        And literally ALL games that ever shipped have had content cut. That’s how games don’t stay in development forever: by cutting the things they don’t have time to finish (to a good enough quality). Think of your favourite most complete and perfect game: I guarantee you the developers cut several features and parts of the game over the course of development (either because they ran out of time, or because those features turned out boring and the game was improved by removing them).

        Mankind Divided is a solid immersive sim and a good sequel.

  15. MikoSquiz says:

    Go Team! is my favorite thing on RPS ever, alongside Mine The Gap. I would love to see more long first-person-subjective game diaries again.

  16. kwyjibo says:

    Tacoma was not badly marketed. There are 75 critic reviews on Metacritic, very few indies could generate that amount of coverage. Every major website wrote about it multiple times.

    Yes, the game does not lend itself to the free-marketing of Twitch, but that is a product issue. The only way to get that would be for it to be a different game.

    Gaynor gets it right when he says that Gone Home “connected with more people on a more visceral, emotional level of personal identification”. You could throw all the marketing in the world at Tacoma, and it still would not have connected with people.

    • KenTWOu says:

      If you put everything on major websites, their positive reviews and Metacritic, your game is badly marketed. Besides, Twitch isn’t the only way to engage with your audience.

      • kwyjibo says:

        Yes, because you also need to be on websites with no readership…

        There’s only so much an indie can do, and Tacoma did well. It’s not like they have Destiny money.

        • KenTWOu says:

          Obviously, Tacoma didn’t do well, otherwise it would be a commercial success. Judging by that interview, they put everything on gaming press like they did when they released Gone Home back in 2013. It worked then, because the indie market wasn’t over saturated and gaming press has managed to follow all new releases. But today gaming press coverage alone is not relevant to your success. Look how they missed a couple of recent trends like growing popularity of ARK and PUBG. Today you need to put lots of efforts into your marketing, and I’m not talking about money, there are ways to market your game with a zero budget. I’m talking about engaging with your potential audience as soon as possible using all possible communication channels like twitter, facebook, youtube, Steam community groups, and so on and so forth.

          • kwyjibo says:

            Tacoma did well in its marketing. Clearly it was a massive flop and is currently in a loss making position.

            But no amount of marketing is going to make people want to play Tacoma. The problem isn’t the marketing.

            The only way Tacoma could have done all those things like twitch/youtube etc was if it were a different game altogether. You can stream Cuphead, and you will sell Cuphead to viewers. It doesn’t work for Tacoma.

            Tacoma did the best it could with what it had. Don’t blame marketing.

  17. E_FD says:

    The immersive sim article is definitely resonating with me, because all four games mentioned are ones I was really looking forward to, thought sounded like exactly what I was looking for, having enjoyed the previous entries in their series, and then couldn’t really get into any of them, and I was genuinely wondering if it was just me getting older and grumpier.

    Bought Deus Ex: MD when it was on sale, played through it but felt underwhelmed by the end. Got the demo for Dishonored 2 and literally couldn’t bring myself to play past the second level or so. Bought Hitman once the full game was out, by the third map a feeling of sameness and deja vu was sinking in and I felt no urge to continue. Played the Prey demo, and I liked it enough I’m still thinking of buying the game once it’s on sale (tellingly, it’s the only one that isn’t a sequel), but there’s still an underlying feeling of overfamiliarity to it.

    I don’t think any of these are bad games, but for whatever reason they haven’t clicked with me the way their predecessors did, and from the looks of it, I’m not the only one feeling that way.

    • icarussc says:

      Yes. I played DX1 through about four times, enjoyed DX2:IW, completed DXHR twice, but never finished DXMD. It just all seemed … too familiar.

  18. bill says:

    I have to add my voice to those feeling that the second wave of Immersive Sims didn’t really do much to stand out or grab attention.

    To be fair, both the first wave and the second wave were actually quite small (what, 5ish games each). Plus the first wave was always a somewhat niche audience. (Thief and Deus Ex never sold a blistering number of copies).
    So I’m not quite sure why people expected them to suddenly have mass-market appeal this time around. They weren’t considered mass-market enough to support cutting edge graphics back then, so I was surprised that they were this time.

    I think Deus Ex: Human Revolution sold a lot partly because there was a big market of gamers who’d grown up hearing about this legendary game (DX) but a lot of them had probably never played it. Plus all the nostalgic people who had. It was very unlikely any subsequent game would come close to that game’s sales.

    Personally, I loved the first wave games, I even loved Bioshock, but the new wave somehow left me a bit cold.
    I think part of it is that they all felt kind of like sequels, and that the settings were a bit played out (though Dishonored can’t really be accused of that).
    I think another part is that a lot of their systems have been absorbed by other games, so they no-longer feel quite as fresh and unique/amazing as the first wave did.
    Yet another part is that these games are a bit intimidating at first… you have to really commit to them and learning their systems. And these days I often don’t have the time/motivation to do that, so I’ll end up on something more immediate instead.

    All that said, aren’t games like MGS and Breath of the Wild pretty much mainstream implementations of Immersive Sims? And those seem to be doing pretty well.

  19. Turkey says:

    Yeah, I think HR and Dishonored 1 had more to do with killing off their sequels than anything else. People forget that you need the interest of the general gaming audience to sustain a AAA release, not just hardcore dorks like us who read RPS.

    They got their attention with the first two games purely on hype, but I suspect that general gamers didn’t enjoy the gameplay enough to warrant buying the sequels.

  20. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    I’ve not bought many of the best games of last year or the year before that (immersive sim or otherwise) because I just don’t have time and they’re all super long and expansive (if you want to really explore a game rather than rush through it).

    I played Prey and Deus Ex Mankind Divided and very much enjoyed them. I sampled Hitman (aim to get back to it), I’m in the middle of Mass Effect Andromeda and I still have copies of Horizon Zero Dawn and the last Batman waiting to be played, not to mention a 100+ Steam and GOG backlog. I bought Dishonored 2 but I haven’t even touched it yet. It seems for both AAA and indie there are just too many good games to play and the pool of people actively aware of and playing all these games seems smaller than we tend to think, so you get fewer sales. (I believe Steam Spy suggested most Steam users just play one or two games and the people playing all the cool new stuff are actually not the majority at all)

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